In 2019, Kunstinstituut Melly’s ground-floor gallery space was given its own name: MELLY. This name was proposed to us by the participants of the first edition of our ongoing work-learn program, CLIP: Collective Learning in Practice. Their proposed name refers to the artwork Melly Shum Hates Her Job by Ken Lum, installed as a billboard on our building’s façade in 1990. For more than three decades, this beloved artwork in Rotterdam continues to spark discussions on resilience and immigration as widespread experiences defining our contemporaneity.
To publicly celebrate the naming of this gallery, we invited 12 artists to create original posters to mark the occasion: Maja Bekan, Kévin Bray, Chloë Delanghe, Baldvin Einarsson, Priscila Fernandes, Vera Gulikers, An Onghena, Kevin Osepa, Josie Perry, Rory Pilgrim, Tramaine de Senna, and Edward Clydesdale Thomson. The poster commissions were intended to communicate the new name. But perhaps as it were to be expected, none of the artists made posters to explicitly promote the new name or a singular brand. Thankfully, the artists went about the commission more creatively.
The artistic motivations and processes to create the posters ranged from a focus on working-class figures—whether this was a parent, grandmother, or a factory employee—to unacknowledged people of color or women artists of yore, as well as popular name changes and spiritual renewals, and imagery that entailed or symbolized community building, false starts, and fantasized futures. Together, the artists’ approaches and the posters came to ultimately express the dynamic vibes instilled in this once ‘white cube’ art gallery now turned multi-purpose programming space.
From the start, each of these artists was commissioned two posters. Some artists took up that sheer number as an incentive to create an image diptych; others used it to present two case scenarios, perspectives, or moments of a single scene or theme; while some created two very different posters, however visible or unnoticeable their theme or style was. All their posters were exhibited at MELLY for a year, and since 2019, continue to be sold on-site and online.
Needless to say, at Kunstinstituut Melly, we certainly took cues from CLIP’s naming of our ground-floor gallery when reconsidering the original name of our institution at large (Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art). Following a public-facing process on this issue resulted in our renaming to Kunstinstituut Melly.
The ideas emerging from this process mobilized a more acute intersectional approach to artistic practices and more inclusive public engagements at our institution.